Saturday, April 18, 2009

Echoes 19 - "Resurrection and Life" - Part 2/5

In writing, we say that details should have a purpose. No detail should be included that doesn't have some purpose (even if, say, its purpose is to merely misdirect or fool the reader into thinking something that isn't so). On the other hand, some details must be included, ostensibly, to maintain the aura of consistency, of plot cohesion. One of the best examples in this regard is the passage of time.

Unless you're intentionally trying to play with time, we usually insist upon time making sense. This is something I'm having to do a lot with "Resurrection and Life" right now, ensure that the timing of events follows a logical course. While this is a necessary task, this is also something that I fear detracts from the story. As a tool for creating drama, timeframes are an overused one, a poor replacement for true conflict between characters. It fits for a theme of outside forces conspiring against a character, but that too is territory that must be handled with care.

Chapter Nineteen: Resurrection and Life

Part Two

“Choina you say?”

Masuyo nodded, speared a chunk of shrimp from her plate, and chewed.

“When I was in school, they didn’t teach Choinan history until…”  Hideki frowned.  “I don’t know if they ever taught us that.”

“It was really interesting, Papa!”  Beside Masuyo’s meal, Imi sat with her legs dangling over PET’s edge.  “Sensei said the Choinans discovered Netopia in 1421, 70 years before the Ameroupans did.  Isn’t that amazing?”

“No kidding?” said Hideki.  “I had lunch the other day with Kinomoto-sensei from the university, and we talked about that theory.  He said it was a total fabrication.”

Imi frowned, dejected.  “Oh really?”

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Masuyo.  “Toyoshima-sensei is, well…”

“Well?” said Hideki.

“Imi, maybe you can show Papa?”

“Of course!”  The navi in the white skirt transformed before their eyes, taking the form of a middle-aged man with beady eyes and a slight hunch.  “ ‘Class, what you should realize about our collective heritage is that the East has discovered many things, often times only for the West to rediscover them later and take the credit.  We are not second-class citizens in this world, you know.’ ”  There was a pop in the background.  “ ‘No chewing gum in class!’ ”  Imi scowled to emphasize the point.  “ ‘The Choinans invented gum too, as a matter of fact.  It was one of their finer inventions, alongside the firework and the Great Wall…’ ”

Masuyo burst out laughing.  “I think I must meet the sensei sometime,” said Hideki.  “Either that or report him to the school board.”

The Nakamura family’s amusement soon died down, however, and Masuyo pushed food around with her fork.

“I’m sorry, Papa.  I think I’m not very hungry.”

“Masuyo-chan, it’s rude to leave food unfinished,” said Imi.  “At least, that’s what the teachers said at lunchtime, too.  Did you know that, Papa?  Masuyo-chan isn’t eating—”

“It’s all right, Imi,” said Hideki.

“I think I’ll go lie down,” said Masuyo.  “If I may, Papa?”

“Of course.”  She scooted away from the table.  “Ah, but leave Imi for a moment,” said her father.

Masuyo obliged him, and with a short bow, she retreated upstairs.

“I’m sorry, Papa,” said Imi.  “Is there something I did wrong?”

“You call me Papa,” he noted with amusement.  “What that Masuyo’s idea?”

She shook her head.  “It just seemed right.  You’re my papa too, aren’t you?”

He chuckled.  “I suppose so.  Tell me, Imi, how was your first day?  Being alive, I mean; I’m curious.”

“Oh, it was wonderful, Papa!  I think I got overexcited sometimes—everything’s so new to me and all—but Masuyo-chan was very patient, and all the other boys and girls were excited to see a navi.  Not many of them have one unless it’s also their brother’s or sister’s.”

“That’s how I knew you’d be a special gift for her,” said Hideki.

Imi giggled.

“Are you happy?” he asked her.  “So far, at least?”

“Without a doubt!  I mean, I only really know you and Masuyo-chan, but…I can’t think of anyone better to have created me, to be my operator.  I couldn’t be happier.”

Couldn’t be happier.

“I’m going to find you, Codey-kun!”

“Can’t catch me, onee-san!”

In an isolated corner of the net, the children of Nakamura chased one another, darting through a dirt-walled maze.  Imi rounded a corner, and Codey looked back and grinned at his sister.

“Not caught me yet!” he said.

“We’ll see about that.”

Imi halted and closed her eyes; her thoughts rearranged the maze.  A gap formed in the wall beside her, and Imi dove though, tackling her younger brother.

“Oh, no fair!” said Codey.  “That’s cheating!”

But Imi laughed all the same.  “I’m sorry!  I’ll play fair next time; it’s just…”  She helped Codey up, but their hands stayed together, and Imi cast a wistful look over the maze.  “I love this too much,” she said.  “Being here with you, being able to touch someone…”

Codey’s bemusement turned grim.  “I know, onee-san, but—”

“You still want to play?” said Imi.  “Or maybe a different game?”


“We should play cards.  Cardman-san taught me lots of games.”  The maze receded, and Imi motioned for Codey to sit with her.  “Spades?  Hearts?”

“I think we should talk about Papa,” said Codey.

A deck of cards materialized in Imi’s hands, but she promptly dropped them, and they scattered on the floor.  “What about Papa?” she asked, taken aback.

“Don’t you want to see him?”

“Well, of course, but…”  She sighed.  “I’ve been looking for him non-stop for the last two months.  I just want to enjoy this time we have while we still have it.  There has to be more to life than Papa, after all.  I’m glad there can be something for both of us.”

Imi retrieved the wayward cards, but Codey shifted uncomfortably.  A dozen times now he’d brought up the subject of their father, yet over the hours they’d played together, he and Imi had yet to broach the topic at all.  Codey thought sure her curiosity would get the best of her when he remarked about Papa leaving him to meet her, but Imi dismissed their father’s kindness (as she saw the gift—the changes Hideki made to Codey’s program, just enough to keep his mind from Imi’s copying abilities) and his insensitivity.  She asked not why their father abandoned both of them, and Codey, for his part, couldn’t bring himself to tell her unprompted.

She’s so happy now.

And happiness was an emotion Codey has seldom glimpsed in Imi.  Rage and desperation?  Sure.  Grief and agony?  At times, self-imposed.  Granted, he hadn’t known her very long, but there was an innocence to her, a childishness that belied her misdeeds.  The sight of his sister carefully dealing out a two of clubs or king of diamonds clashed with what he knew she’d done:  murdered and slaughtered and crippled.

If he found the courage to tell her the truth, what would stop her from unleashing those emotions on him?  Why shouldn’t her joy freeze in a heartbeat and melt into cold wrath?  Would she stop with hurting him?

Codey trembled, but not only fear shook him:  the frame bug’s effects progressed over time.  The attacks of weakness increased in frequency, paralyzed him with helplessness as his body refused his mind’s commands.  More than that, his fingers and toes acted on their own.  They wiggled and seized and racked him with aching spasms.  Time was running short, for him and for Imi.  Perhaps he’d been foolish—to think Imi wouldn’t be angry when he told her—yet now he couldn’t avoid that thought at all.  Couldn’t think, couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe…


He shook, he writhed, he gyrated.  His rolled on the floor, beating it wildly.

“What’s happening?  What’s wrong?”  Imi grabbed him and held his flailing limbs at bay.  “Can you talk?”

His lips and jaw moved, but his voice came out like a squeaky hinge.  “I’m sorry, onee-san.  I’m sick.”

“You’re sick?  Codey-kun, the way you’re shaking—this is serious!  How could Papa let this happen?”

“He didn’t let it happen.  He…he…”  Another spasm seized his chest, as if an unseen hand clutched his heart in a death grip.  “Papa…”

At once she nodded.  “That’s right; we need to find Papa.”

“No, you don’t—”

“Even if Papa can’t fix me, he can fix you,” said Imi.  “This should be child’s play for him, but how can we…?”  She looked about.  “We can’t find him here, in the net.  I need to go outside.”

“No!” said Codey, catching her arm.  “You can’t go; you can’t leave me!  Papa…”  He stopped.  If she saw how this bug affected him, how would she react knowing she too would soon feel it?  Concerned, he tried a different tactic.  So long as she didn’t run off while he was talking to her, he could find some way to break the news gently.  “What if something happens?” he said.  “What if, while you’re gone—”

“You won’t get better with just me here,” said Imi.  “I can’t help you by myself.  Just stay here; I promise I’ll be back soon.”

“But onee-san—”

She disappeared down a Rush Hole, her portal to the real world, and Codey sat alone.

It’s all right, he told himself.  Onee-san will go to Papa, and Papa won’t let us down.

On a laptop screen, a Mettool keeled over and disintegrated.

“I don’t believe this.”  Nakamura Hideki pulled his own hair and blinked expectantly, as if looking again might change the result.  When that didn’t happen, he punched the keyboard, and another Mettool walked across the monitor, oblivious to its fate.

But the passage of time let up for neither man nor navi.  As the counter on screen ticked away from thirty to zero, Hideki checked his own watch.  It too counted not up but down, and it read in hours, minutes, and seconds.

The time, nearest they could figure, when Codey would die, just like the 116 viruses Hideki had liquidated on his quest to find a cure.

Poof.  Make that 117.

“This isn’t happening.  It’s a simple frame bug; this shouldn’t be happening!”

And in Hideki’s rational mind, only two explanations could account for his difficulty:  either the frame bug problem had proved genuinely harder than he anticipated…

…or he was the problem, not the program, and his failures resulted not from imperfect knowledge but imperfect use of knowledge.  The theory behind his solution was sound.  The practitioner of that theory?  Not so much.  If he and he alone held up the patch for the frame bug, either through his own carelessness or reckless fervor, then he could buckle down and focus; that way, he controlled the fates of his children.  To accept that maybe, just maybe, he’d created something he couldn’t undo at all…

8:53:22.  Eight hours, fifty-three minutes, twenty-two seconds, and every second mattered.  Every second meant Codey felt agony, thanks to him.  He couldn’t let it stand, couldn’t afford to lose his head, not now.  He closed the blinds, shut the door, and typed in utter darkness, save for the white and blue glow of a liquid-crystal screen.

“So you say Dr. Nakamura’s made no progress?”

Enzan rubbed shoulders with the crowd, a large congregation from all walks of life, assembled to greet travelers and family returning home.  He too awaited a party, but this place wasn’t home.  The signs bore kanji and other characters, similar to his native Japanese, but he recognized few of the characters.  The strangers beside him chattered amongst themselves, and he puzzled at exotic vowels and incomprehensible progressions of stress and accent.

This was Choina, the cradle of civilization on this side of the world for the last two millennia, yet for all its achievements, the gems and discoveries that adorned its history, Choina had locked itself behind a curtain of mysticism and control.  Mysticism in the role of the state:  a master entity that divined the will of the people and the best interests of the nation.  Control in how the state realized its vision:  let no one mistake for a minute that the people of Choina were under a load worthy of a dozen oxen.  Such was their duty to the state.

Some might naturally yearn for the days of emperors and dynasties, right or wrong as they may have been.

Nevertheless, Enzan had great hopes that Choina would protect him and Nakamura.  The government’s restrictions of information buffered them from the outside, and after the fiasco over Jasmine’s treatment, the Choinan’s owed them ten times over.  At least, should they try to work Enzan for their own purposes, he would make sure Jasmine became a willing expatriate, and if she should happen to find herself among Nibetan rebels, so much the better.

They shouldn’t need safe harbor for long, though.  If Imi didn’t make herself known and beg for Nakamura’s help, she would soon die anyway, but Enzan loathed relying on timeframes for safety, hence why he tapped his foot at debarkation.

Hence why he called Laika.

“The doctor seems to be an expert at making no progress,” Laika remarked.

“His emotions get the better of him,” said Enzan.  “If he were a net battler, he wouldn’t do well at all.”

Laika grimaced and hunched over a coffee table.  “Even we ‘professionals’ aren’t doing so well.”

“Shouldn’t you be resting?  Lying down at least?”

The soldier of Sharo merely turned around, exposing a patchwork of bandages and stitches.

“I can’t,” he said.

Enzan winced.  “And the others?”

“Well, no one’s in surgery at the moment.”

“The princess?”

“It looked bad late this morning,” said Laika, “but I’m…confident she will pull through.”

“I’m sure she will.”

Laika nodded once but was silent, and Enzan quietly buried his own disappointment.  Not that his comrades were recuperating at a hospital in Namaste—nay, he’d accepted that—but that he wasn’t alongside them.  He bore the duty of protecting Nakamura alone again…


…and neither Netto nor Rockman could dispel that feeling.  The Hikari twins, their father, and Sakurai Meiru ascended the escalator, and Enzan had visions of the past, of a rainy day two months ago, when a boy in a blue bandana walked up to him, promising to join the fight against Echo.  For fifty days, Enzan sat back while Netto and Rockman trained, yet though they’d shared the same home, Enzan knew neither of his guests.  They became different people before his eyes, and for all his attention to detail in battle, Enzan had been only vaguely aware of their new personas and surely oblivious to the extent of the changes.  He’d given shelter to them, yet he enjoyed none of their confidence.  All this time, he was but one man, set alone against the forces of fate, and he alone endured while the people around him crumbled—like Rockman after Roll’s death, like Pride as Laika suffered Imi’s tortures.  How long can one man hold up the world on his shoulders?

But that was enough philosophy.  Enzan cared little for it when it couldn’t solve his problems, and surely these meandering thoughts wouldn’t revolve the Echo crisis.

Netto approached Enzan with a smile, despite the sling around his shoulder.  “I’m sorry we’re just getting here,” he said.  “Papa wanted us in his lab back home first.”

“I heard,” said Enzan.  “You’re…cured?”

“Not quite, but it’s better.  We only hear what we want the other to hear now.  It’ll work for now.”  He looked about.  “Where’s Nakamura-hakase?”

“Where I left him,” Enzan said cryptically.

“And the others?  Jasmine?”  Meiru twitched, squeezing Netto’s hand.  “What was that for?” he asked.

“Nothing, nothing.”

In answer of Netto’s first question, Enzan pointed to his PET.  “Take a look for yourself.”

“Ah, Laika!” said Netto.  “You’re all right!”

“We all are,” said Laika, “to varying degrees, but—”  He glanced to his left.  “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” said Enzan.  “I don’t think the microphone picked it up.”

“Excuse me for a moment.”  Laika limped off screen, muttering to himself about Namastian medical care.

“Well,” said Enzan, “we should get going.  Nakamura-hakase will—”

BANG BANG CRASH!  On screen, Laika backed into frame, his hands raised.

“Laika, what—”

“Cut the call, Enzan!” he said.  “Hang up before—”

“Be quiet!”

Enzan grimaced.  They all knew that voice.

Sure enough, Imi walked into view, holding Laika at sword-point.  “How sad,” she said, studying the screen.  “I didn’t think you’d abandon your own people, Enzan-san.”

He clenched his fist.  “I do what I must.”

“Yes, you always do.”  She looked between them, meeting the gazes of Netto, Meiru, and Yuuichirou.  “You’re all there, but where’s Papa?”

“You should know the deal by now,” said Enzan.  “Surrender yourself unconditionally, and we’ll give you the cure.”

Her eyes widened.  “You know Codey-kun is sick?  How?”

The party exchanged glances.  “How could she not know?” said Netto.

“You think Codey didn’t tell her—”

Enzan raised a hand, silencing Meiru, but Imi’s gaze only hardened further.

“You did this on purpose, didn’t you!” she said.  “You—how could you do this to him!  He’s innocent!”

“I don’t recall when that’s stopped you,” said Laika.

She glared.  Dangling a vine over him, she said, “Oh, you want more?”

“Enough!” snapped Enzan, stopping both in their tracks.  He had to reestablish control of this situation, give Imi no chance to fly off the handle, and make the best of a botched plan.  “Echo, I’m sending you an address.  Show up there with your brother, and he will receive the patch.  If you don’t appear with him…”  Then what?  Tell her she’s going to die, too?  With Laika and the other Members at her mercy?


“If you don’t appear with him, we will do nothing, and in a little under nine hours, he will be junk for garbage collection.”

“You’re bluffing,” she said.  “You can’t do that to him!”

“I can, and I will,” said Enzan.  “It’s up to you whether you want to keep on your killing spree, chase after your father and risk running out of time.  How long did it take you to find Laika and the others?  There are a lot of hospitals in Namaste, aren’t there?”

She scowled.  “I can hurt them still!” she said, leveling her Paladin Sword on Laika.  “I’ll make you watch me kill them until you give me what I want!”

“What makes you think you can make me watch anything?  Blues, hang up.  I’m tired of this navi’s empty threats.”

“Agreed, Enzan-sama.”

A still frame of Imi’s shocked expression lingered on the holo-screen, but it quickly gave way to static.

“I suggest you both block incoming calls and messages to your PETs, too,” said Enzan.  “If she can’t contact us, she can’t threaten us.”

Meiru gawked.  “But Laika and the others—”

“Will be fine.  She has too little time to waste killing them.”

“You’re assuming a lot, Enzan-kun,” said Yuuichirou.  “Imi hasn’t shown herself to be wholly rational.  What makes you think she believes your threat, either?”

“She has to.  If she ignores the possibility that Codey may die, she ignores her own death herself.”

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